The Twenty Minute Difference: A Case Study in Manager Flexibility

Managers – What are you thinking?

I have a great deal of respect for Managers. I know how tough it is to be one – I was there for many years.  Juggling the pressures of the job and managing people, who all have their own personalities, development desires, work habits, and expectations is one huge difficult task. As rewarding as it can often be, it is a big, big job.

Yet often times I cannot believe how foolish some managers can be, and how inept they are at building an environment of high productivity and trust.

But I have to say that I also am thinking, “Come on, people. Does this really make sense?”

A new client shared with me the primary reason she is looking for another job.

Before I tell you why, let me offer a bit of context.

My client, let’s call her Janice, has been working for EnergyAlive (fictitious name) for over eight years, and has been promoted three times into a Manager position. She is very well-liked, very smart, and has received consistently high performance ratings. (That’s why she was promoted).

So, what’s the problem?   

A new Director (Mason) recently came on board into the company. Within a few weeks, all of a sudden, everything changed. There is a problem.

Janice wants out – NOW.  She is seriously looking for another job.

Why is something that was going so right, all of a sudden going so wrong?

  Janice has a young son, John. John attends kindergarten nearby and goes to   after school care so that Janice can pick him up at 5:00pm every day after she leaves work.

Janice’s previous Director had given her the flexibility to leave 20 minutes early each day so that she could reach the daycare center on time to pick up her son. Janice usually took shorter lunches and was a hard worker so it all worked out.

Janice was grateful because it often took up to an hour, with traffic, to reach the daycare center. She greatly appreciated her Director’s faith in her to get the job done even though she had to leave a little early. She worked hard to show that appreciation.

Mason arrives as the new Director. He is gung-ho to “make his mark”.

Mason has a different idea of what the “rules” are.   

In plain English, Mason doesn’t believe in flexibility. He has laid down the law that Janice must stay at work until 4:30pm just as her hours dictate.

Janice now has a new worry every day – a big one. If she can’t make it to the daycare center by 5:00pm, she gets charged for an extra two hours because the daycare manager wants to close up at 5:00.

So what is happening?  Janice is stressed out every day. She rushes into her car and drives (perhaps a bit too fast) to get to the daycare center as quickly as possible – and rarely makes it on time. So along with the added stress, Janice also now has a much bigger daycare bill.

Janice now has a chip on her shoulder about the company (and Mason).  Are you surprised?

What used to be a very productive and positive relationship between Janice and EnergyAlive, has all of a sudden become a very tense and negative one.

I see this as Penny Wise and Pound Foolish.

No, I take that back. I don’t even see this as Penny WiseIt is just plain foolish.

  • EnergyAlive has already lost an excellent employee. Janice will be gone soon. She has excellent skills and can bring those skills elsewhere.
  • Janice knows the company (and its customers) very well.  She used to have respect for EnergyAlive and its services, and really put in 110% effort to do a good job. Not anymore. Why should she care about them when they don’t care about her?
  • It will cost EnergyAlive several thousand dollars to hire and retrain and onboard a new manager to take Janice’s place. Usually this takes up to 8 months or more. There will be lost time and perhaps a big slip in customer service.
  • Janice’s co-workers know what’s going on and are also ticked off. They feel for Janice and can’t understand why Mason can’t be reasonable. It doesn’t bother them that Janice used to leave 20 minutes early. They like having her as their manager. She treats them with respect.
  • Mason is standing firm, because he doesn’t want to ‘lose face’. (He doesn’t realize he has already lost it)

Have you seen these types of situations arise? Have you been involved in one? It’s quite amazing how a change in the Director position has created such a negative impact on the employees and the company within a few short weeks.

Where is HR? Is anyone paying attention?  Who is coaching Mason that he may be establishing a reputation in the company that might eventually cause his derailment?  What’s fair? What’s reasonable?  What makes sense?

Twenty minutes of flexibility. Is this too much to ask?

Important things to think about.

As a manager and leader – how will YOU handle these issues?

A report by Sodexo (has approximately 125,000 employees in North America alone) in 2012 shows employers need to think beyond the business and outside the traditional office setting to create an engaged, productive workforce*.

*2012 Workplace Trends Report: Integration, Flexibility and Wellness Top Drivers of Employee Engagement *

“…Because recession or not, the U.S. still has a skilled worker shortage.  As the economy picks up and the boomers finally do retire, it is only going to get a whole lot worse.  Companies that get ahead and build real cultures of workplace flexibility are going to have the staffing advantage and the competitive edge.

“Flex is no longer an ’employee benefit’.  Those days are gone.  Today it is an all-around public policy issue and bottom-line corporate strategy.”

Sodexco’s research predicts continued focus on well-being and the ability to deliver a unique value proposition to business communities that focuses on not only integrated, effective and efficient use of space, but also the performance of human capital. Employees are looking to organizations for tools and resources to help them simplify their lives, stay healthy and balanced, and bring their “whole self” to work as these continue to be top drivers of engagement.”

Terry Del Percio is a Career Transition and Workplace Consultant based out of Beverly, MA. Follow her on Twitter at @WorkIntegrity or visit her website at www.workstrategies.com  

My Way or the Highway: Oh, Really?

Marsha is an incredibly talented business development executive. She’s an independent thinker and a real go-getter. She makes things happen.

Marsha has put together complex multi-million dollar deals that involve the government, global utility companies, private industry etc. On top of all that, she is highly experienced and savvy in the alternative energy industry space.

Marsha was recently recruited into a well-positioned alternative energy start-up. They pursued her with a vengeance because of her reputation and industry knowledge.

The VP advocated strongly for hiring her and fought to make an exception to the “standard” offer. They considerably jacked up the base salary and incentive structure to make it happen. Everything fell into place – Marsha received an incredibly lucrative offer.

Sounds like a happy story, right?

Well… there has been a new development. Marsha has been there for six weeks. When I spoke to her, the first sentence out of her mouth was “I’ve got a big problem here. I’m not sleeping and I find myself experiencing a lot of anxiety. My gut is telling me there is something very wrong.”

What was the problem? Here is the down and dirty.

  • Boss assumes everyone is available until all hours of the night and sends emails expecting an immediate response.

[By the way, Marsha has a full personal life with many family responsibilities and community interests]

  • Boss believes in the traditional method of volume calls to create qualified leads and wants to see the ‘numbers’ every day. He sees business development as sales.

[By the way, Marsha has a different style of developing business with a focus on relationships that build over time. Her approach has led to numerous multi-million dollar deals.}

  • Boss is hyperactive and often rude, pointing at people (including Marsha) and publicly saying he wants to see MORE, MORE, MORE and FASTER, FASTER, FASTER.

[By the way, Marsha expects to be treated with respect, just as she treats all of her colleagues, and feels insulted by the way the boss is communicating.]

There’s more, but you get the picture.

The bottom line is that unless the boss changes his communication style and becomes more open-minded about how his staff gets the work done, he is going to lose a very talented person, and fast.

Who really loses?  I say the organization loses in the long run.  If Marsha could bring in a couple of multi-million dollar deals within a year, is it worth losing her because she has a different approach?

Patty Inglish noted in a short piece entitled “Top Ten Reasons Why Employees Quit” that the reasons most people quit their jobs include:

a) Lack of autonomy and respect

b) Health problems or burnout

(note: the article is from 2007 but is still applicable)

In this economy there aren’t too many blogs being written about employees quitting their jobs because so many fear being unemployed.  But don’t let that fear fool you. When talented people feel unreasonably pushed and not respected, they’ll leave as soon as they can.

Marsha has a responsibility in this situation too. She needs to communicate what the problem is in a way that doesn’t put the boss in a defensive stance and allows them both to see the benefit of working this out. But not at the expense of her health or her family.

The boss has more “organizational power” but Marsha has personal power…she is ready to walk because she is confident that she can take her talents elsewhere.  I would bet that Marsha is right.

Leaders, listen up: Assess your tendency to take the  “My way or the highway” approach. In the end, you could be biting off your nose to spite your face.

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Have you ever been in a situation like this? What was your experience? I’d love to hear from both leaders and employees.

Please leave your comments by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” phrase written below (in very small print). Thanks for reading.